The effort to upgrade the home of the State Fair of Texas and revitalize its surrounding community took a significant step forward this past Thursday. Fair Park First, a nonprofit dedicated to the stewardship and maintenance of Fair Park, revealed designs for a 14-acre community park to be built over Fair Park’s largest parking lot.
The new Blackland Prairie design will replace the concrete lot with gardens, picnic areas, a community stage, play areas, a dog park, a market grove, and various water elements and outdoor spaces.
The city council is tentatively scheduled to vote on the park board’s plan on April 27. It is expected to be approved.
The community park will be entirely funded through private donations. Although only a quarter of the $85 million needed to build the park has been raised so far, construction is scheduled to begin in January.
A referendum that would provide another $250 million for additional Fair Park renovations is also planned for Dallas voters to consider in November, but construction on the community park will still begin even if that does not pass.
If the referendum is approved, this additional funding would be the largest monetary investment in Fair Park since 1936 with the Cotton Bowl, Fair Park Coliseum, Band Shell and Music Hall, Automobile Building, and Centennial Hall exhibition spaces all on tap for improvements.
The funding for the project will not come from Dallas residents or the City’s general budget. Dallas will generate the necessary funds through a 2% increase in hotel occupancy taxes, thanks to the state’s newly amended “Brimer Bill.”
State lawmakers first passed this bill in 1997 as a funding mechanism for the City to build American Airlines Center (AAC). The tool proved effective as the City paid off the 30-year bonds it took out to build the AAC in half that time.
A 2021 amendment to the “Brimer Bill” extends the funding mechanism, for the first time, to some of Fair Park’s attractions.
“Dallas residents are not paying a dime for these two transformative projects,” Park Board President Arun Agarwal told The Dallas Morning News. “This is a tax on visitors, tourists, and business people, just like we pay taxes when we visit their cities.”
The parking lot was built several decades ago, apparently for the benefit of the Dallas Cowboys, who were playing their home games at the Fair Park Cotton Bowl.
Members of Fair Park First, a nonprofit dedicated to the stewardship and maintenance of Fair Park, claim that the lot was meant to drive out the many African American families who resided near the park, adding the families who lived in the homes were removed without receiving “adequate compensation.”
Pastor Donald Parish Sr., of True Lee Missionary Baptist Church in South Dallas, serves on the nonprofit Fair Park First board. He believes the new park is a step in the right direction.
“It’s an acknowledgment of what happened and maybe trying to say in some way, we’re going to try to give back to the community that we’ve taken so much from,” he said. “It’s hard to say that you’re satisfied when you look at the damage that was done.”
Located off South Fitzhugh Avenue between Exposition Avenue and Lagow Street, the park will be open to all and free of any fencing. Organizers say that this planned revitalization is an effort to help heal the past and bring the surrounding community back to the park.
According to Fair Park First CEO Brian Luallen, the latest plans resulted from 1,000 meetings and contacts with members of the South Dallas community.
“It’s critical that we take down the fences here. This is very open and welcoming. We see it in many ways as a red carpet, or in this case, a green carpet that welcomes people back into the park that it felt like this was an unwelcoming space for a very long time,” Luallen said.
The project is part of the City’s master plan to revitalize Fair Park, approved in October 2020. The new green space is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2024.
Note: This article was updated on June 10 at 4:40 p.m. to correct an error.